Matt O'Neill


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exercise music

By Matt O’Neill

I currently find myself exercising a great deal. I originally began in February with just 30 minutes of exercise each day to lose some weight. Since then, I’ve felt compelled to keep escalating matters. Currently, I run 10.3km each day and complete 30 minutes of freeweights exercises each night. Well, being more specific, I do both on four days of the week, do one of each on two days and then allow myself one day rest. I’m working up to daily.

Of course, this all adds up to about 89 minutes of music listening for me each day. That, and a hell of a lot of time for idle musing. For the past seven months, I’ve been combining the two to investigate exercise music. It’s considered a given that listening to music improves physical performance – so much so that even recreational marathons and long-distance runs are beginning to prohibit the use of iPods. I thought I’d explore what worked best.

Previously, this involved merely listening to different albums and styles. I leaned quite heavily on dance music when I began – specifically, the collected works of NAPT and Steve Hill’s hulking five-disc album Hard Trance Is My Life – but I gradually moved through pop, reggae, afrobeat, metal, noise, punk, musical theatre, jazz and classical. I recently decided, though, to try and put together my own specific mixes to try and come up with the ideal soundtrack.

Listed below are my first two efforts. I’ve put together one for each routine – a long-distance running playlist of about an hour and a freeweights/strength exercise playlist of half an hour. I feel I should offer the caveat that exercise music is different from normal music. It’s not about appreciating artistry or emotional catharsis. It’s about getting the job done. Put simply, you don’t need any additional incentive to cry when you’re on the 120th push-up.

Trust me.

Running Mix Attempt 1:

1. A Mountain of One – Ride
2. Barrett Martin – Mohammed Ali
3. Seun Kuti & the Egypt 80 – You Can Run
4. Salmonella Dub – Tha Bromley East Roller
5. The Prodigy – Voodoo People (Pendulum Remix)
6. RackNRuin – Soundclash
7. Niko Schwind – People
8. Lee Coombs – Light & Dark (Neurodriver Remix)
9. Killing Joke – Hosannas from the Basements of Hell
10. At the Drive In – Arcarsenal
11. Jay Z – 99 Problems
12. The Bronx – Ship High in Transit
13. Garbage – Hammering in My Head

In my more alcoholically inclined days, I concocted what I termed the perfect drunk formula. It was basically a series of drinks designed to get you smashed without turning you into a completely useless, evil drunken bastard – you did a shot of tequila, skulled a glass of absinthe and lemonade, sat on a scotch and coke and then sat on a vodka and Red Bull (and then repeated). It was the ideal mix of aggression and sweetness. A long distance run requires a similar combination of factors.

I kicked this mix off with the happiest and least aggressive tunes. The hardest part of any run is the first couple of hundred metres and kilometres as your body finds its rhythm. In those times, you need something to take your mind off your gasping and wheezing. Hence, afrobeat, indie-house and New Zealand drum’n’bass. This is the tequila of the equation. It makes you happy. Following this, you ratchet up the intensity with breakbeat and raver music. This is absinthe and lemonade.

The real trick of a long distance run, however, is as much about psychology as it is about physical fitness. You need something that’s going to let you go the distance while still keeping up the energy and the pace. Like the Perfect Drunk Formula, you need something that’s going to take your mind off how sick you’re feeling. Hence, scotch and coke – or, in this case, house music. Niko Schwind and Lee Coombs distract you from the fact that you still have five kilometres to run.

Finally, vodka and Red Bull to re-energise you and get you back on track for the next round – rock music. At this point in the run, you’re more than likely completely exhausted and near-mindless. You basically just need raw, focussed energy. Hence, Killing Joke, At the Drive-In, Jay-Z and The Bronx. This mix also has a built in failsafe. Theoretically, you should waste yourself by the time The Bronx’s blistering as fuck finale rolls around but, if you don’t, there’s a final burst of energy from Garbage.

Weights Mix Attempt 1:

1. Elton John & Leon Russell – Hey Ahab
2. Run DMC Vs Jason Nevins – It’s Like That
3. The Presets – My People
4. Slipknot – The Blister Exists
5. Jay-Z & Kanye West – That’s My Bitch
6. Rage Against The Machine  – Street Fighting Man
7. The Haunted – Sweet Relief

Weights require something infinitely simpler. Speaking again in alcoholic terms, it’s not about going the distance. It’s about getting smashed as quickly and effectively as circumstances allow. Hence, this mix is pretty much purely tequila shots: dumb, quick blasts of aggression and fun with only the occasional break. Some may question the inclusion of Elton John/Leon Russell and Jay-Z/Kanye West but a swaggering groove adds a lot to your energy and both songs have it in spades.

That may sound dumb but, honestly, that’s kind of the point of a mix like this. You are not a critic. You are an animal responding to stimulus.

They were just the first attempts, of course. I actually tested them both. The weights mix was ultimately perfect but I was less than satisfied with the running mix. It kind of lost its flow at points. Still, it’s an ongoing experiment. We’ll see how we go for the next set.


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